Why: Every once in a while, you want to see some nature and breathe some country air. For a couple of hours, anyway.
When: Great Falls on Sept, 29, 2012, a nice early-fall day. Harpers Ferry on April 6, 2013, windy and coolish but sunny.
How: Having friends with cars helps. In each instance, Chelsea drove from Arlington. Great Falls should only be a half-hour drive from Arlington, but we got lost a bit (my faulty usage of iPhone navigation being to blame). Harpers Ferry is about an 80-minute drive from Arlington (no getting lost that time). We picked Great Falls since it was close and a coworker gave me a tip on the popular Billy Goat Trail (Section A). We picked Harpers Ferry because I wanted to visit West Virginia (Robert’s home state) before leaving, and this is both the closest point to DC and a good hiking spot.
How Much: Parking fees at national parks like Great Falls and Harpers Ferry were $5 and $10. For Great Falls, we parked at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. For Harpers Ferry, you can park by the visitor center and then take a shuttle to the historic town area where there are trailheads.
What we did: Hiked! Nothing serious, but enough to get some good breaths of fresh air, some good pictures, and get away from the city for a few hours. The Billy Goat Trail features plenty of scrambling over rocks–usually not my favorite activity, but this was so much tamer than my last rock-scramble hike in Sumatra, it was NBD. This was the kind of place where you could customize the length of your hiking experience by adding additional loops or trail sections in the park, or not. A couple of hours later, we were satisfied and headed back into town for a top-notch Sichuan linner in Falls Church. This was a trip of four China Peace Corps Volunteers, after all.
For Harpers Ferry, we planned to do a moderately strenuous 5-mile section of the Maryland Heights trail, but group interest cut the hike slightly shorter. After enjoying some lovely vistas, we walked around the historic/quaint town of Harpers Ferry, reading up on our Civil War history. We elected to skip lunch in Harpers Ferry itself because never have I seen a whole town with such pervasively negative Yelp reviews, and instead stopped in Leesburg on the way back for Mexican. Though, note to self, why can I never remember I shouldn’t try to eat Mexican in DC?
I’ve gotten a few other recommendations of hikes in the greater DC area, like Old Rag Mountain, VA and Sugarloaf Mountain, MD (you know how I feel about Sugarloaves), and for more serious hiking, but those will have to be saved for another DC life.